Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America suggests that armed revolt would be appropriate to “reassert the proper constitutional balance” if a liberal Democrat wins the election this November and appoints anti-rights justices to the Supreme Court. He also claims that courts rule on particular cases, but their decisions don’t extend to the whole of society.
This repeats the error that many of Pratt’s persuasion make in rejecting Article III of the U.S. Constitution and the Marbury v. Madison clarification that the courts as a co-equal branch of government interpret the law. This is not to say that the courts create or cancel out basic rights, but they do rule on the protections afforded by the Constitution.
As I’ve discussed before, even now, a Clinton presidency would be hard times, but not the end of the Second Amendment and the free exercise of gun rights. She could accomplish little that Obama hasn’t already done with executive orders, given congressional opposition. And the tradition of the Supreme Court is to respect prior rulings. Enough Clinton appointees might decide to overturn Heller and McDonald, which puts a burden on the Senate to give consent only to justices who will protect rights.
An example of that is to be found in the abortion rulings since Roe v. Wade. In the decisions since 1973, the court has moved the line back and forth a bit with regard to what is protected, but generally, a woman’s right to reproductive healthcare has been left consistently protected since Roe: an unrestricted right to abortion in the first two trimesters and a right in the third if the mother’s life is in danger. What supporters of either abortion or gun rights have to recognize is that what applies to one applies to the other, and so while a court with several Clinton appointees would likely chip away at the landmark rulings in favor of gun rights, a major shift becomes less and less likely with every new case that uses Heller or McDonald as precedent.
And the courts aren’t the place where big changes should originate, anyway. Yes, we could use a ruling that the Second Amendment protects carry outside the home, but beyond that, the legislatures are responsible for improving exercise of gun rights. To achieve federal restrictions, Clinton would need enough Democratic seats in the Senate to make a filibuster pointless. To gain national carry license reciprocity, we’d need enough pro-rights senators to override a veto. In other words, a Clinton presidency, again, will mean four more years of stagnation on the federal level with regard to gun rights.
But the larger question that Pratt raises is when, if ever, it would be appropriate to take up arms to defend rights. This is a particularly pointed question, given our history of revolution and civil war. It’s also a subject that guarantees a lot more heat than light, given how often we’re accused of being insurrectionists by advocates of gun control.
My answer here is that we have to take into consideration a lot of details before we could ever justify revolt. How serious is the violation of the right in question? Have all legal avenues to correct the violation been tried already? Would the harm done by armed solutions exceed the harm already being done? In practical terms, what are the chances of success?
This is probably a case like pornography that we’d know it when we see it, and we’re presently a long way from being able to make a moral case for revolution. Asking Pratt for measured consideration is probably a fool’s errand, but the rest of us have to emphasize our commitment and preference to the legal processes of protecting rights. Doing so is more likely to prevent the need to take up arms.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.